What Remains True
Merry Anna Foster loved spring for its promise of new beginnings, and this year she needed one desperately. She inhaled the fresh mountain air. Where else, aside from Antler Creek, could you work in a store that had a screen door for taking advantage of beautiful days like this? It was just one more reason she loved living and working in this small town. It had turned out to be a good first step in her new beginning.
Across the way, a woman held two sets of sheets and an embroidered kitchen towel in one arm. In the other, she cradled two candles, while three quilt-block ornaments hung from her widespread fingertips as if she dared the porcelain tiles to clink together.
“Let me help you with that.” Merry Anna raced to her side.
“I’ve got it. I should’ve picked up a basket, but honestly, I had no intention of buying anything.” She piled her treasures on the counter. “I could absolutely live in this store.”
Merry Anna had felt the same way the first day she’d happened upon Hardy House Fine Linens and Gifts. She rounded the counter and pulled the generous stack of items toward the register. “I know what you mean. A couple of months ago, I was passing through town, just like you, only that day there was a Help Wanted sign in the window.” The antique register clicked and dinged with each manual entry. It was beautiful but a real beast on her nails. “And here I am.”
“You just stayed?” The woman’s eyes widened with a look that easily translated to Are you crazy? even without the finger twirl at the side of her head.
“I did.” And maybe it had been crazy, but the happiness in her heart meant more to her than a stranger’s opinion. “I’d just meant to stop for gas and a quick lunch,” Merry Anna explained. “Then I saw this place and peeked in. The rest is history. I’d never done something like that. No plan whatsoever, but I’ll tell you . . .” She leaned in. “I’ve never been happier in my entire life.”
“Then it wasn’t crazy at all. Good for you. Some things are just meant to be.”
“I suppose so.” Merry Anna folded each item in patterned tissue paper, then tucked the bundle gingerly into a bag with the Hardy House logo on the front. She held up one of the hand-painted tile ornaments on display at the register. “I didn’t even know what a barn quilt was when I stopped in. Aren’t these great?”
“Yes. I bought a different one for each of my girlfriends. They are so unique and beautiful in their own way, and I love the personal story about the location of each one that’s written on the cards. I didn’t have time to take the barn-quilt tour today, but I plan to bring a few friends and make a day of it soon. I figure I’ll use those ornaments as the invitations.”
“That’s a fantastic idea.” Merry Anna picked up a stack of shiny brochures. “I’ll tuck these in your bag too. They have all the information you need about the tour.” Often she dreamed of moving out of her rental and into a home with her own barn quilt, but she kept that to herself. There was a lot she kept to herself these days. It was necessary to do so when she’d first arrived, but now that she’d been here a while and gotten to know folks, it was harder.
The customer handed over her credit card. Merry Anna finished the transaction and walked around the counter with the pretty bags. “Here you go.” Leading the customer to the front door, she said, “If you haven’t eaten, the Creekside Café is a real treat. Tell Maizey we sent you over, and she’ll give you the locals discount.”
“Well, thank you.” The woman’s smile warmed all the way to her twinkling blue eyes. “I love this place.”
Me too. “You have a wonderful day. I hope you’ll come back and see us.” And she wasn’t just saying that. Sure, after years of retail, she knew what to do, but doing it and meaning it were two different things.
“Count on it,” the woman said. “My friends are going to love this store too.”
Merry Anna waved, holding the white screen door so that it wouldn’t slap against the frame. Just as the woman stepped off the curb and loaded her loot into the trunk of her car, Merry Anna’s boss, Krissy, walked out of the coffee shop next door with a cup in each hand.
She raced over with a grin on her face, leaned in toward Merry Anna, and whispered, “You are very good for my business.” After handing her one of the cups, she slipped by Merry Anna and walked inside. “I don’t know what I did to deserve to have you show up out of the blue, but I sure am thankful for it.”
Merry Anna made her way to the long white glass counter. “Works both ways.”
“I bought you a tea.”
Merry Anna twisted the blue cup in her hand. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.” She lifted the hot tea to her lips. “Oh, it’s my favorite.”
“Which is why I did have to do it.”
“Thanks.” From the moment they met right there in that store, it had been as though they’d known each other forever. Krissy had just left her teaching job back in Hilton Head to try to make her dream come true of having an upscale shop on that Main Street in the town where she grew up. Merry Anna was on her own new journey. Entirely different circumstances, but they were both sort of settling in at the same time, which drew them closer.
Merry Anna sipped her tea as she straightened and restocked the hand-painted replica tiles of the barn quilts associated with the county’s barn-quilt tour.
Krissy was sort of a celebrity in this region for all the full-size barn quilts she’d been commissioned to paint. She’d done the small porcelain tiles on a whim one afternoon, and they’d brought in steady revenue for the store ever since.
“Are Matt and Liz coming tonight to help paint more of these?” Merry Anna asked. She’d met Krissy’s brother, Matt, the first week she moved here. He and Liz were the perfect couple. She wouldn’t be surprised if there’d be wedding bells in their future.
“Oh, I meant to tell you. They’re preparing for the Spring Fling. It’s a huge deal, and they host it every year. They’re going to help, but we’re taking all the supplies to their place to work on them. Matt’s going to cook. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind? For a home-cooked meal, you couldn’t keep me away. Besides, I’ve been dying to see Angels Rest.” The inn on the hill was the talk of the town, and Merry Anna hadn’t come up with a good way, short of paying to stay a night or two, to get up there to check it out. She had been gushing over the handiwork Matt did around the store when Krissy told her about his house and all the things he’d done for Angels Rest. Plus, Matt and Liz were such a sweet couple that it was enough to keep a gal’s hopes up that there might be everlasting love out there for real someday.
Krissy helped the next customer who walked in pick out a wedding gift. Hardy House wasn’t huge; it was just one of the narrow brick two-story buildings nestled in the middle of the main block between Java Nice Day Coffee Shop and Hoppers Fly Fishing Outfitters. Every building on the street had its own personality. Hardy House, all white with gold accents, stood out from the other buildings, which dressed their awnings and shutters in shades of red, green, and blue that looked just right against the mountain backdrop.
The trees were so green with new growth that it looked as though someone had tossed fake Easter-basket grass in the branches, and flowers spilled out over the edges of the planters that lined Main Street. Everything was in full bloom, and it was the prettiest thing she’d ever seen in her life. Sometimes she couldn’t believe she’d been so lucky to have come across this town, where she could soak up the peaceful beauty every single day.
For so many years all she’d done was work. She’d missed this kind of stuff, and for what?